Tennessee Murder Trial: Who is Lying, and Who is Telling the Truth?

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by Sharon Rondeau

(Aug. 17, 2012) — A man identified by Walter Francis Fitzpatrick, III as having helped to commit the murder of Monroe County Elections Commissioner Jim Miller in July 2010 has reportedly testified that a woman in custody for two years for the crime is the guilty party.

A motive of robbery had been advanced by the prosecution, but the defense has challenged it because the jewelry was not stolen, but rather, found with Mr. Miller’s remains.

Jessica Kennedy Powers has been jailed since October 2010 on charges of murder, arson and other offenses and has provided varying reports of what might have happened to the 60-year-old businessman.

Steele testified that “I may be guilty of drugs, may be guilty of this and that, but I never killed nobody.”  Kennedy Powers stated that Steele “had hit her, shot at her, stabbed her and kidnapped her.”

Powers’ defense attorney, John Eldridge, has accused prosecutors of withholding information in the case and lying in a case involving another of his defendants.  Prosecutorial misconduct is also alleged in the Tenth Judicial District Drug Task Force.

Fitzpatrick has stated since May of last year that Miller’s death was “a government hit.”  Testimony on Wednesday from Sheriff Bill Bivens and TBI lead investigator Bill Brakebill contradicted the TBI’s “lead investigator” status and raised the question as to why Brakebill said he did not follow up on leads provided by Kennedy Powers that Bivens and Monroe County Sheriff’s Department Captain Michael Morgan were involved in the murder.

A detective for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, Doug Brannon, testified about two rings and a watch found on Miller’s body which were not charred, even though the car was set on fire following Miller’s brutal demise.  Questioning the robbery motive alleged against Powers, defense attorney Eldridge asked, “And they are fairly valuable, are they not?”

With the sheriff’s department allegedly under investigation in the days following Miller’s murder because Capt. Kenny Hope was identified as a person of interest, why was a detective from that department testifying?

Brannon was the detective who testified in the Michael Ellington trial for which only one forensic test was performed and no police report available.  He tried to build a case against Powers by stating that she “knew too much about the case.”  Fitzpatrick told The Post & Email this morning that as in the Ellington case, no forensics have been provided at Powers’ trial to prove the prosecution’s charges against her.  “Is there a police report in the murder of Jim MIller?  Is there any forensic analysis report from an independent agency such as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to tell the jury what the evidence told us about the crime?” he asked.  “You put these things under a microscope to find out what the evidence tells us about the nature of the crime.  There is no forensic evidence report that I can find; Brannon wings it, the same way he did in the Michael Ellington trial,” Fitzpatrick said.

In a six-part series on corruption within the Tenth Judicial District of Tennessee, prosecutorial and grand jury foreman misconduct has been alleged.

Boonie Stokes, another man Fitzpatrick and Powers have named as being involved in the murder, “may testify” on Friday, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

As Fitzpatrick has been reporting for nearly three years in addition to having been arrested and jailed on numerous occasions by the Tenth Judicial District, prosecutors and long-serving grand jury foremen appear to have improperly influenced grand jurors about to consider evidence against a defendant.  Without a properly-empaneled grand jury, indictments are thrown into question.  Without proper indictments, a case cannot proceed to trial according to the Fifth Amendment to the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1789.

A member of the Bradley County grand jury claimed that law enforcement officers “say anything they have to to get a conviction” and “get angry” when questioned.  He also told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that, “the grand jury foreman sometimes didn’t actually count the jurors’ votes,” which coincides with Fitzpatrick’s claims of undue influence by former Monroe County grand jury foreman Gary Pettway after having served for 28 years.

Former McMinn County grand jury foreman Joe Riley has also been accused as having wielded undue influence over the grand jury members.

Fitzpatrick has accused Judge Walter C. Kurtz, who is also presiding over the Powers trial, of making law from the bench and denying existing laws which ordered the county courts to reorganize into districts 28 years ago.  Fitzpatrick also stated more than two years ago that Tenth Judicial District prosecutors Steve Bebb and Jim Stutts were “criminals.”

“Now we have everything we need.  This is the kind of behavior that one would expect from a jury which has bene picking its foreman by hand,” Fitzpatrick said.  Kurtz had used a judicial opinion from 1972 to justify the use of a grand jury foreman for multiple terms and even decades to respond to Fitzpatrick’s claim that a foreman should be dismissed with the rest of the grand jury.  “No matter what that judge thought in 1972, the legislature changed the law.  We’ve had two different laws put into effect which say that we have new foremen twice in a year, and once these foremen are done with their duty, they can’t come back and serve on any jury for 24 months,” Fitzpatrick said, referring to TCA 16-2-510 and 22-2-314.  “They’re not counting the votes’ they’re trying to influence the votes…”

Assistant District Attorney General Paul D. Rush has tried to paint Fitzpatrick as “criminally insane” and The Post & Email as lacking in integrity during court hearings for Fitzpatrick in a case involving an allegation of stolen government records.

In the past, judges have selectively allowed journalists into the courtroom to record the events, but the Times Free Press and Knoxville News Sentinel have been covering the Miller case extenisvely.

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